Social Media and Student Ministry
What impact does social media have on youth ministry? Is it something we should use? If so, what social media platforms should we use? Should our youth ministry have it’s own Facebook page? What about Twitter? Or Instagram? Dare we use Snapchat? How can we manage all of these at the same time? It seems like a full-time job to keep track or to take pictures and post them. Who should own this and take the time to make it good? Should we do it if it’s going to be a mediocre effort to connect? Should we just focus on in-person connection? Is social media for connection or information?
If you are reading this right now, the chances are good that you’ve spent some time thinking through the impact that social media has on student ministry. There is really no getting around it. We are social beings, created to be in community, and today that community is increasingly finding itself online. I had a conversation recently with an adult over the age of 50 about the use of Facebook. The response really made me understand the significant difference in generations and the use of social media. This particular individual did not consider community or information or discussion to be online, but rather should happen in person. I was slightly taken aback, because I personally, as a 27-year-old, have had significant interaction and even started friendships and certainly continued friendships through an online community such as Facebook.
The questions at the beginning of this article may not find their answer in this post, but I want to share with you three principles to keep in mind as we approach social media and student ministry. I call them the “ABC’s of Social Media Use in Youth Ministry.”
Assess your situation
Before deciding how or what to use, you have to determine where your students (or your target audience) are. Are they using social media? Do they even have smartphones? In our youth ministry, there is actually a large number of students who don’t have cell phones, let alone smartphones. But then, of those, there are actually a decent amount who have iPods that can do essentially just as much as a smartphone.
What social media platforms are most popular in your student ministry? Many of our students aren’t on Twitter, but most that are anywhere on social media are on Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook.
Are you able to use social media platforms well to increase the Kingdom Impact of your student ministry? This is a question we must ask. If your youth ministry is going to be on social media, it must be done well. Chances are good that your social media presence will be the first thing that a new student sees before they visit. What impression will that give?
Budget your priorities
All of us have certain priorities in our youth ministries. For some, it may be reaching the unreached through a talented band, lights show, performance, and strong, biblical teaching. For others, it may be fellowship through a meal. Much of the budget goes toward providing a meal for students to come and connect. Still, for other ministries it may be having the latest and greatest technology or the best games. All of our ministries have priorities that are hopefully geared toward reaching the lost.
We must budget what is most important. If social media is not a vital or integral aspect of reaching the lost in your community, don’t use it and don’t budget for it. BUT, if it is a huge benefit to getting students to connect with your ministry, for getting students sharing Christ with others on social media and in person, then make certain that it is something that finds its own line item in your youth budget. We all have limited budgets, which is why we must budget our priorities (whether that is social media, technology, meals, curriculum, staff development, student leadership development, etc.).
Consistently do what your students will connect most with
Our ministry is not big enough to employ a youth ministry office coordinator or to be able to have more than one person for the middle school and high school ministry. I am it, other than our great volunteer team. What that means is my time is limited with what I am able to do. If we are unable to use social media well, to enhance rather than hinder our youth ministry, it is not worth the time or the distraction.
Whether social media or not, we must consistently do what students will connect most with. Consistency develops trust, a greater level of engagement, and more buy-in from students. This can happen on social media and it can and should happen person-to-person. If you decide to use social media, determine to use it consistently well.
BEN MARSHALL has served as a Youth Director in Holland, MI since 2014. Prior to that, he served with Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) doing college-age ministry, and worked in a residential psychiatric facility for two years. Ben has a passion for discipling youth and young adults and helping them realize their God-given potential. Ben is married to Connie, and have a baby on the way. He loves playing guitar, soccer, and football. Follow Ben on Twitter @BENMARSHALL3 or on his blog at FAITHLIVEDOUT.WORDPRESS.COM.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.